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Gipson v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 12, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.


          LYNN ADELMAN District Judge.

         Plaintiff Virginia Gipson applied for supplemental security income, alleging that she could not work due to a variety of impairments, including degenerative disc disease, depression, fibromyalgia, and obesity. (Tr. at 126, 143.) Denied initially and on reconsideration (Tr. at 47, 48, 77, 93), plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. at 97, 103), but the ALJ also denied the claim (Tr. at 14-29), and the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. at 1). On plaintiff's request for judicial review, the court remanded because of an incomplete record (Tr. at 1478-81), but on remand a different ALJ again denied the claim (Tr. at 1520), and the Council again denied review (Tr. at 1390). Plaintiff again seeks judicial review of the denial.

         I. ALJ'S DECISION

         In the decision under review, the ALJ, following the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process, [1] determined at step one that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 5, 2010, the application date, and at step two that she suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease in the cervical and lumbar spine, fibromyalgia, and obesity. (Tr. at 1525.) The ALJ found that plaintiff's chronic pain and depression caused no more than mild mental limitations and were thus non-severe. (Tr. at 1525-26.) At step three, the ALJ found that none of plaintiff's impairments met or equaled a Listing, including Listing 1.04 applicable to degenerative disc disease. (Tr. at 1528.)

         Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the RFC for sedentary work, with no more than occasional stooping, crouching, and crawling, and no exposure to concentrated pulmonary irritants. (Tr. at 1528.) In making this finding, the ALJ considered plaintiff's alleged symptoms and the medical opinion evidence. (Tr. at 1528-29.)

         Plaintiff alleged chronic, severe pain extending from her neck through her lower back, with associated upper and lower extremity radiation. She reported taking various narcotic medications, which provided only partial relief and caused side effects of sedation and constipation. She also reported that other pain-relief measures such as heat, ice, and spinal injections provided only temporary relief. Plaintiff further testified that she had memory problems, trouble concentrating, and difficulty staying on task due to chronic pain and medication side effects. Plaintiff indicated that she could sit for 20-30 minutes, stand for 10 minutes, walk one block, and carry 5-10 pounds. She further indicated that needed to lie down for two to four hours a day, one to two days per week. (Tr. at 1529.) The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms she alleged, but that plaintiff's statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects these symptoms were “not entirely credible.” (Tr. at 1529.)

         As for the opinion evidence, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of the agency consultants that plaintiff could do sedentary work, finding them well reasoned and consistent with the evidence of record. (Tr. at 1531.) The ALJ gave minimal weight to the opinions of plaintiff's treating providers supporting greater limitations. (Tr. at 1532-34.)

         At step four, based on the RFC for sedentary work, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could return to her past work as a receptionist. (Tr. at 1534.) In the alternative, he concluded at step five that plaintiff could perform other jobs, including food preparer, order clerk, and office helper, as identified by the vocational expert who testified at the hearing. (Tr. at 1535-36.) The ALJ accordingly found plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. at 1536.)


         The ALJ's decision will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence, meaning such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Ghiselli v. Colvin, 837 F.3d 771, 776 (7th Cir. 2016). Under this deferential standard, the court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for the ALJ's; however, this does not mean that the court will simply rubber-stamp the ALJ's decision without a critical review of the evidence. Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015). The court reviews the entire record, considering both the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that detracts from, the ALJ's decision, and the decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues. Scrogham v. Colvin, 765 F.3d 685, 695 (7th Cir. 2014). In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review. Id. Finally, the ALJ must comply with the agency's regulations regarding the consideration of medical evidence, including the reports of a claimant's treating physicians. See, e.g., Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1127 (7th Cir. 2014).


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in (A) considering whether her back impairment met Listing 1.04, (B) determining RFC, (C) evaluating the treating source reports, and (D) considering the credibility of her allegations. I address each argument in turn.

         A. Listing 1.04

         In considering whether a claimant's condition meets or equals a listed impairment, the ALJ must discuss the Listing by name and offer more than perfunctory analysis. Minnick, 775 F.3d at 935. At issue here is Listing 1.04, which covers disorders of the spine, such as herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, or vertebral fracture, resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, ยง 1.04. Additionally, under the sub-section applicable in this case, the claimant must present evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with ...

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